An imbalance between our professional and personal life can impact us physically, mentally and emotionally. To experience a sense of wellbeing in our everyday lives we must strive to achieve what we commonly refer to as the work-life balance

Isheeta Sharma

Our professional life is what we define as our career path or the work that we get paid for. Our personal life includes different aspects such as family life, social activities, hobbies or leisure activities, sleeping hours, etc. When our professional and personal lives are in harmony, we can experience a sense of achievement and purpose, and perhaps be happy. However, that is seldom the case.

Most of us struggle with finding the perfect balance between our professional and personal lives, more commonly known as work-life balance. Some might even call it an urban myth, impossible to achieve; while others might argue that the occasional weekend breaks are as good as it gets. But to truly achieve a work-life balance, it becomes imperative to first understand it.

Work-life balance is described as a state of equilibrium between one’s professional and personal life. It is the ideal allocation of time between different aspects of life that construct an individual’s identity. When these different aspects fail to align with each other, a lack of work-life balance is experienced. This balance, however, does not translate into equal number of hours dedicated to each task in life. On the contrary, achieving this balance means changing your priorities on an almost daily basis and at different stages of life. The right balance between your professional and personal life as a single woman in your 20s will be vastly different from the right work-life balance you might need as a married woman in your 30s. The causes for work-life imbalance are aplenty and often depend on several factors. Your personality type, ambition in life, choice of career, etc., are all reasons why you could prioritise your professional life over your personal life, or vice versa.

Work-life balance is neither a recent concept nor a passing fad. It can be traced back to the time of Aristotle, the Greek philosopher. He talked about balancing work and leisure in his treatise The Nicomachean Ethics. Later from 1960s to 1990s, as more women entered the workforce, there was a need to accommodate the requirements of working mothers and hence, ‘family-friendly’ policies came into existence. The term ‘work-life balance’ was officially coined in 1986 by writer Tom Brown.

Since this was the first time women entered the organised workforce in large numbers, the first wave of work-life balance policies focussed on accommodating the requirements of working women who were also handling responsibilities at home. However, women still continue to struggle more than men in finding a work-life balance. While more women have stepped out of the house and into the workforce, their responsibilities at home have not reduced. The patriarchal norms of our society expect women to manage chores at home alongside jobs without adequate support from either family members or at the workplace. “I feel that women are more likely to bear the burden of work, as their labour is not acknowledged nor is it financially rewarded as much as men’s. A majority of women in our society take on unpaid labour and work and this also has emotional consequences. Here the work which is done at home isn’t really regarded as work at all. Hence, they often have to take a ‘double burden’ - of their jobs and of household chores,” explains Manavi Khurana, Founder and Counselling Psychologist at Karma Center for Counselling and Wellbeing. This leads to emotional and physical strain which further increases with time and growing responsibilities at both the home and work front, leaving no time for personal or leisure activities.

Later from 1960s to 1990s, as more women entered the workforce, there was a need to accommodate the requirements of working mothers and hence, ‘family-friendly’ policies came into existence. The term ‘work-life balance’ was officially coined in 1986 by writer Tom Brown.

However, regressive gender roles are not the only reason employees experience work-life imbalance. Workplaces that do not have policies in place to help their employees achieve this balance are also a major hindrance. These could include inflexible work hours, a smaller number of paid leaves, insufficient maternity or paternity leave, long working hours, etc. A recent study revealed that an average Indian millennial puts in the longest hours at work per week, 52 to be exact, as compared to other countries such as China, UK, US, Australia and France.

Another issue that impacts the employees and their ability to balance their work and personal life is the time they spend commuting to and from work. According to one study, Indians spend more time, 100-180 minutes daily and 12 hours per week, behind the wheel in comparison with countries such as China, Australia and the Philippines.

And finally even after reaching home, it is difficult to disconnect from work as a result of the constant availability through emails, text messages, calls, etc. Answering work related calls during dinner or late at night has become routine for most of us. Working long, inflexible hours, harsh deadlines, peer pressure, aggressive supervisors, etc., can lead to anxiety and stress at the workplace and beyond.

In the short run this work-life imbalance manifests itself in tiny moments of anger, frustration or dissatisfaction, often forgotten after a while. However, in the long run, it can have a significant physical and mental impact. A 2006 study looked into the association between work stress and imbalance between work and family life with anxiety disorders. It was concluded that work-life imbalance can cause anxiety and mood disorders. It leads to a deteriorating sense of satisfaction and an increase in stress-induced illnesses. According to another study, respondents who claimed to experience work-life conflict were 30 times more likely to experience mood disorders, 10 times more likely to go through anxiety attacks and 11 times more prone to substance-abuse.

Structural changes such as flexible work hours, paid maternity and paternity leaves, childcare services, professional counselling, etc., are all helpful in trying to achieve a healthy balance between our professional and personal lives. However, achieving work-life balance is also a personal struggle that varies from person to person.

The consequences of a skewed work-life balance are real and impact both our physical and mental wellbeing. It is true that achieving this balance is a hard task but by making conscious decisions every day we can find ourselves both achieving and enjoying a work-life balance.